Total Recall

Total Recall: Stay on the Line for Phoney Movies

Operator, can you connect me to Sorry, Wrong Number, Dial M for Murder, and Scream?

by | January 2, 2008 | Comments

This week,
One Missed Call
brings to US screens the
story of a girl terrorized by her wickedly foreboding cell phone. In honor of
this J-Horror remake, Total Recall takes a look at at film about freaky phones.

It’s fascinating how many horror films hinge on a phone
call — and not singly calls from hit men, ghosts or psycho killers either. The
whole "knock-knock-boo!" horror convention has left the ranks of gimmick and
moved full-blown into sub-genre. Like I wrote, there are plenty of these films
out there (we’ll only discuss three influential ones here), boasting tendencies
to boot. You’ll usually find a girl at the receiving end of the call. Tackily
suggesting a need to get the last word, the girl in question will sometimes
return the call (I mean if you’re stupid enough…that’s what you get), and the
killer is generally close at hand. Predictable, right?

The fun of these films often comes from clever direction.
These older phone films were commonly chamber plays, featuring characters tied
to rooms and phones with cords. So, the more film literate audiences go to see
how a director could suck suspense from four walls. Obviously cordless phones
and even mobile phones alter the dynamics of suspense: I once heard a mystery
writer bemoan cell phones saying he could never pull suspense from an "out of
office alert" again.

Within the "scary phone" sub-genre, the origin spot, the
fontanel of the genre would have to be 1948’s
Sorry, Wrong Number
(90 percent on
the Tomatometer). Time has been kind to
Anatole Litvak‘s noir about a pushy
princess with a weak constitution. Star
Barbara Stanwyk spends literally the
entire film chain-smoking in bed, compulsively making calls on a rotary phone.
Her husband (Burt Lancaster), is the weak sort of WWII vet that populates these
noirs with their bossy women and easy scores. When Stanwyk hears, by way of
crossed phone wires, a murder plot and is completely disregarded by the police,
she takes things into her own hands. Up until, of course, she finds out she’s
the mark for the murder and then her self-righteous vigilance devolves into
hysteria. Stanwyk is brilliant as always and Lancaster is sort of incredible
himself, playing a resigned and beat down husband who married up and hates every
moment. Oh, all the tricks up all those fabulously tailored sleeves.

Critics like it now ("The film’s
basic premise is just too compelling to resist," wrote Doug Pratt of DVDLaser),
but it was less kindly received when it came out. Bosley Crowther of the New
York Times
, for example, said "the narrative structure of the story and the involuted way in which it is told, with flashbacks occurring within flashbacks
and extraneities popping here and there, cause it to be quite bewildering and
therefore tedious in the lengthy middle phase." We don’t often recall that noir
was not universally liked before the French gave it its affectionate moniker.
Also, this chamber play accomplishes plenty outside of the room, employing
flashbacks and Pac Bell almost simultaneously.

The award for "glossiest" phone horror has to go to
Dial M for Murder
(1954, 78 percent). Picking up a bit where Sorry,
Wrong Number
left off, the murder in Dial M can again be traced to
marital discord and upward mobility. Boy, those wimpy men love their

Grace Kelly plays glamorous and resourceful wife Margot to
Ray Milland‘s conniving and money hungry husband Tony. Tony discovers Margot’s
infidelity and hires a college classmate to do her in. The cue for murderous
action is a phone call. Because of what happens after the phone call, the film
takes a direction that’s darker than is generally expected from a Technicolor
spectacle slash 3-D eye popper." Dial M For Murder includes
one of the most intricate plots of any murder mystery as well as maximum amounts
of Hitchcock’s trademark suspense," wrote David Bezanson of

Dial M for Murder: Trailer.

Popcorn is commonplace in film culture and it’s an
accessory well at home in
Wes Craven‘s uber-referential horror masterwork,

(84 percent) Okay, so maybe "masterwork" is a big word here, but I remember when
this film came out and the buzz reached past critical ballyhoo and ventured well
into the territory of genre-defining cultural reference. Like Billy Wilder’s
association with the rise and fall of noir, Craven had an association with the
slasher film and in the height of self-reference, Scream provided a
perfect balance of teen sex appeal and genre study. 

The teenagers in Scream have seen all the horror
films they need to get the rules. And sophisticated as they are, those thrill
seekers don’t take anything seriously, playfully chatting with the killer,
masked as the existentially agonized screamer from Edward Munch’s "The Scream," waits quietly behind the plate glass door. The opening scene famously featured
the return of long absent
Drew Barrymore, some Jiffy Pop, and a chat about
horror films with the prank caller/cineaste/killer and was widely praised. Mike
Bracken of wrote, "The film opens with one of the best, most
intense, most unexpected opening sequences I’ve ever seen then rips on for
another ninety minutes or so, rarely flagging in terms of pace." See…girls don’t
always need the last word.

Scream: Trailer.

If you still need to (cinematically) reach out and touch
someone, check out Phone Booth (72 percent),
percent), or Fred Walton‘s
When a Stranger Calls
circa 1979 (44 percent).

Tag Cloud

Heroines Nat Geo See It Skip It canceled IFC Films Warner Bros. pirates of the caribbean kong football FX Tumblr LGBT nfl batman CMT Acorn TV FOX adventure award winner hist latino Apple SXSW CBS All Access cartoon adaptation Family zombies ABC Musical know your critic TCA 2017 Toys Universal DGA dogs Super Bowl universal monsters Awards Tour concert Music ratings historical drama dceu breaking bad Emmy Nominations Hear Us Out Walt Disney Pictures Rock Character Guide Creative Arts Emmys Trailer politics cooking TNT stop motion vampires Musicals 007 PaleyFest Winter TV RT History crime thriller 71st Emmy Awards sequels CBS Teen Trivia Amazon slashers First Reviews Women's History Month cars Disney+ Disney Plus Vudu TV renewals a nightmare on elm street Shondaland Image Comics spy thriller Marvel Studios Alien VH1 Arrowverse james bond sag awards canceled TV shows LGBTQ game show Kids & Family TV movies Comedy MSNBC prank comedies Sundance TV video on demand E3 Turner A&E Discovery Channel American Society of Cinematographers Sundance Star Trek spinoff green book joker Travel Channel TV Drama animated halloween cancelled television ViacomCBS PlayStation Video Games Pop TV hidden camera rotten movies we love mockumentary 2021 Amazon Prime boxoffice binge BAFTA international TCA Awards women Mindy Kaling Fox News USA Binge Guide Broadway heist movie Funimation directors indie Countdown Year in Review Pixar dragons Film golden globes Legendary VOD Superheroe transformers trailers french stoner Television Academy cats Lifetime dc Crackle Apple TV+ all-time cinemax DirecTV Polls and Games fast and furious El Rey Disney Plus TV One Classic Film The Arrangement Ghostbusters The Walt Disney Company Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Box Office archives robots Election Set visit Television Critics Association 99% name the review jurassic park reviews Mudbound FX on Hulu strong female leads technology 93rd Oscars 2017 lord of the rings Action Academy Awards venice book Comedy Central WarnerMedia spanish The Walking Dead boxing Animation sports NBC Turner Classic Movies diversity remakes Hallmark Christmas movies President Tarantino films tv talk zero dark thirty reboot Awards nbcuniversal Reality razzies The Witch singing competition Calendar Masterpiece thriller critics anthology saw Epix christmas movies Valentine's Day hispanic Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt teaser Stephen King composers Photos war RT21 superman dark Summer MCU versus TCA 72 Emmy Awards Exclusive Video Lucasfilm docudrama disaster Anna Paquin SDCC Reality Competition Opinion 2020 Mary Tyler Moore BET Awards Paramount Plus halloween tv TIFF toy story sequel rotten Thanksgiving discovery blockbuster medical drama The Academy laika twilight Disney unscripted 20th Century Fox 2016 witnail serial killer black Podcast deadpool target social media toronto blockbusters San Diego Comic-Con Infographic Grammys 2018 aapi asian-american Netflix kaiju japanese cops movie high school Film Festival book adaptation Lifetime Christmas movies ID Cosplay comics Western New York Comic Con YouTube worst 2019 OWN series YA HBO Go Columbia Pictures children's TV scorecard nature finale Chernobyl TCM aliens festivals A24 mission: impossible fresh VICE Mary Poppins Returns TV Land independent harry potter Tubi WGN comic Tomatazos Comics on TV Ellie Kemper screenings Endgame Adult Swim Sony Pictures National Geographic godzilla classics game of thrones police drama Biopics Dark Horse Comics cancelled TV shows TruTV revenge Red Carpet news Horror Sci-Fi Britbox BBC ABC Signature History 45 FXX Rocky Elton John rom-coms crime drama stand-up comedy Interview Bravo E! renewed TV shows Rocketman chucky Apple TV Plus psychological thriller south america television Crunchyroll theme song APB travel Nickelodeon franchise Showtime casting Food Network obituary Logo IFC cancelled TV series Netflix Christmas movies First Look Winners GLAAD Paramount Network richard e. Grant Pirates Pride Month biography HBO Max Spike Emmys scary movies romantic comedy worst movies dramedy BBC America ABC Family Certified Fresh TLC blaxploitation ESPN live action elevated horror Watching Series facebook period drama doctor who AMC Ovation cancelled Mystery DC Universe Freeform NYCC miniseries Holidays Captain marvel streaming justice league TCA Winter 2020 best Quiz crossover TBS Lionsgate indiana jones Cannes OneApp Writers Guild of America YouTube Premium HBO BET true crime 24 frames Christmas GIFs rt archives DC Comics documentaries Avengers 4/20 Holiday Baby Yoda jamie lee curtis Rom-Com Black History Month festival Superheroes Marathons cults video Pop MTV free movies italian SundanceTV spanish language Disney streaming service USA Network space new star wars movies Mary poppins romance Brie Larson golden globe awards X-Men hollywood telelvision Spring TV Song of Ice and Fire Spectrum Originals Sneak Peek documentary die hard supernatural Premiere Dates Nominations popular Disney Channel Schedule YouTube Red ghosts Pacific Islander The Purge Martial Arts comic books science fiction psycho based on movie quibi Paramount child's play GoT Marvel docuseries monster movies new zealand Comic Book Amazon Prime Video australia 21st Century Fox mutant king kong streaming movies new york foreign natural history Country spain BBC One CNN talk show scene in color spider-man Esquire anime movies screen actors guild 2015 kids Oscars 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Black Mirror satire Fall TV Pet Sematary Marvel Television emmy awards Shudder PBS The CW criterion Syfy Fantasy zombie Star Wars Best and Worst Peacock Extras Fox Searchlight what to watch superhero CW Seed parents Amazon Studios Cartoon Network Starz political drama werewolf Trophy Talk crime comiccon marvel cinematic universe Hulu Sundance Now ITV Hallmark sitcom DC streaming service